2011 NFL Playoffs: Debating the Postseason Quarterbacks
Of the eight teams left in the NFL playoffs, six of them have quarterbacks under the age of 30. If I asked you whether a young gun would emerge to win the Super Bowl or an old dog would take the crown, you would probably take those odds and go with the first option. Now, what if I told you one of those two older QB’s was Tom Brady (3 Super Bowls) of the New England Patriots. Now it’s something to think about. Since the other sage signal caller is Matt Hasselbeck of the surprise Seahawks, you’re basically either taking the Pats or the field. In this article, I’ll rank the quarterbacks based on skill and the position they’re in regarding the talent surrounding them. Then I’ll explain why Tom Brady will not rise again.
8. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks
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Hasselbeck is on the other end of the spectrum. Although he’s only two years older than Brady, at 35, he still has a daunting task ahead of him. Facing a Chicago defense with the running game he has does not bode well. I know, you’ll probably ask, “But did you see Marshawn Lynch’s run?” Yes. Several times. It was awesome. But you have to realize that Lynch is not that type of runner. That was the longest run of his career and he is generally a ground and pound physical runner. While he did run over the Bears earlier this season, they won’t let it happen again. Aside from playmaker Mike Williams, Hasselbeck doesn’t have much to throw to. Tight end John Carlson didn’t show up at all this season until the last game, and the likes of Ben Obamanu, Ruvell Martin, and Brandon Stokley are hardly a credible receiving crew. Basically, Hasselbeck is in the twilight of his career, is the least talented out of all the remaining playoff QB’s, and is stuck in the hardest situation with a subpar team around him. Count on the magic to run out for him and Seattle.
7. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
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Cutler is only 27 years old and loaded with talent. He’s also loaded with mistakes. We’ve seen over his career that he’s been a hot and cold quarterback, but his potential is tremendous. Unfortunately in a Mike Martz ran offense, even one that is more run balanced than usual, he’s still had some follies. Cutler has turned the ball over a lot, and the offensive line has had trouble keeping him on his feet. Martz has had trouble really getting the running game going. Matt Forte is a good back and great at catching passes out of the backfield, but his lack of consistency and involvement combined with Chester Taylor being a ghost has plagued this offense. Cutler has a rather pedestrian receiving core with the lone standout being Johnny Knox. Knox has been a great receiver but, like I mentioned with Williams above, doesn’t have much more talent around him. Devin Hester is more of a returner and Earl Bennett has shown flashes, but not enough. Their tight end, Greg Olsen, has been utilized more in the blocking scheme. Cutler should show off his skills by torching the Seattle secondary, but a matchup against Atlanta or Green Bay could prove to be his downfall as he will most likely get harassed.
6. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
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Before anyone says anything about ranking Sanchez ahead of Cutler, keep in mind this is ranking the quarterback who is best equipped to succeed based on personal talents and the weapons he has to work with. Sanchez was very erratic against the Colts but has shown signs of promise this year, and there’s no doubt he will be an elite quarterback in the future. However, he is still somewhat raw and deals with inconsistency. A lot of people are giving him no shot to beat New England on Sunday but you must consider these three things. One, Sanchez has a great running game backing him. The way the Jets can win is if they control the clock and keep Brady off the field. Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson have been solid this year and really excelled last week in Indianapolis. Greene is playing the way he did in last year’s postseason, and that is a very good thing. He and Tomlinson should take some pressure off of Sanchez, enabling him to make throws. Two, Sanchez’s game winning drive against the Colts was perfect. He made some great plays and really knows how to deliver in the clutch. If the Jets can keep this game close, he may just be able to win it for them. The third point I’ll make is simple: Sanchez is not a bad quarterback. He has a good arm and great poise. A lot of people take credit away because he can be off at times, but he can certainly lead a team through the postseason. We saw that last year. He has a great set of skilled receivers in Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller. The offensive line does a good job at protecting Sanchez and you certainly cannot rule out the possibility of beating the Pats. It won’t be easy, but Sanchez has shown he has what it takes to win.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
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While the Steelers are certainly an elite team, the offense can be a little sluggish at times. Yes, they have a solid running back in Rashard Mendenhall, a stealthy receiver in Hines Ward, and a deep threat in Mike Wallace. But if you take away one of those guys, the game becomes tough for Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The 28 year old quarterback is a guru of the postseason already, but he has gotten beaten up this year and he’ll need his offensive line to really hold up. It’s going to a rough game between the Steelers and the Ravens and he’ll need to be at his best. I’m not saying he’s bad, Big Ben is a great quarterback and knows how to lead a team. He looked great in the season finale against Cleveland and can make throws anywhere on the field. I just feel he needs one more big play weapon to really make their offense as dangerous as some other teams’. And i don’t think Heath Miller can do that.
4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
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While you can say he may not have been the main factor in winning four road playoff games in the past three years, you certainly can’t take credit away from him. Flacco is a proven leader who has gotten his team wins on the road against New England, Miami, Kansas City, and Tennessee in the postseason. Right now, it’s all there for Flacco, he just has to orchestrate. Bringing in Anquan Boldin and T. J. Houshmandzadeh to compliment Derrick Mason was a great move by the Baltimore management and Todd Heap is also a viable option. He has a unique running back in Ray Rice who can do it all and Willis McGahee can get it in from the goal line. Flacco has made significant strides this year and is really evolving into a very good quarterback. He has great vision and can get the ball into tight spots. This Ravens team is very dangerous, and with all of its weapons, has what it takes to beat anyone in the field. Flacco has been positioned for success.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
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The quarterback that everyone is talking about has the best chance of winning without a solid running game. James Starks hasn’t proven himself enough after one good game last week. However, Rodgers is playing at an elite level and may be the best quarterback in the playoffs aside from Tom Brady. If they had a good ground game, Rodgers would probably be ranked second. But he is a great quarterback throwing to great receivers and is going up against a Falcons secondary that has been somewhat generous. He’ll need to have a big day for the Packers to win, and he will probably produce excellent numbers in the Georgia Dome. The Green Bay passing offense is unstoppable right now and this is the guy that’s manning the controls.
2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
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Rodgers’ opponent on Saturday, Ryan is untouchable at home. He’s only lost twice there in his career, and has been a clutch player all year. He has a powerful running back in Michael Turner, a sure fire hall of famer tight end in Tony Gonzalez, and Roddy White is a guy who just can’t be covered. The offensive line has also done a good job at protecting Ryan this Year. He basically has everything around him to succeed, he just needs to put it all together to win. And he has shown he can do that. Ryan is a proven winner and he may be on his way to the Super Bowl in just his third year. Expect Ryan and the Falcons to dominate the NFC for years to come. But for now, expect them to head to Dallas on the first Sunday of February.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Brady has it all, and I’m talking about his teammates, not his gorgeous wife. Brady has made things work with Deion Branch, turning him into a deep threat. The two tight end formation with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski is just a nightmare to cover. Wes Welker can make tough catches and slip through underneath routes, while Danny Woodhead’s size and speed gives the Patriots an element that not many teams have. He does that to not only the passing game, but the running game as well, which is anchored by BenJarvus, Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis has given New England a solid running back that they can count on, something they haven’t truly had since Corey Dillon was on the team. Brady combines all of these elements together to create the most prolific offense in the NFL. Brady has had another monster year in which he has posted only four interceptions, and hasn’t thrown one since Week 6. It can be noted, however that two of them were against the Jets, his opponent on Sunday, and the other two were against the Ravens, a possible AFC Championship opponent. In conclusion, Brady is the best quarterback out there, and anything short of a Super Bowl will be considered a failure. Teams are going to have to get very creative to stop the Patriots’ offense.
And The Winner Is...
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So who takes home the Lombardi Trophy? You might call it a dark horse pick, but I think that one of the young guns is going to pull it out. And I’m talking about the man in black in purple. Joe Flacco and the Ravens may have the best and most complete team in football. It’s all up to Flacco to put it all together and really take that next step in becoming an elite quarterback. If Flacco continues to evolve in these playoffs, you can expect to see confetti raining on the Ravens players come February.